Asim scrambles to tighten belt
Buddha bid to erase transport blot
Writers� fire
Camouflage through confusion
Jittery Japan banks on sanctions
Congress convention to split hairs on minorities
Dalmia smells govt plot to weaken VHP
Naidu halo eclipses southern stars
NCERT hurls letters back at syllabus critics
Naxalites nominate poet, singer for talks

Calcutta, May 31: 
The government is planning to cut expenses to pay salaries to its employees.

The Cabinet will meet on June 27 to discuss measures in this regard.

�A string of Union government measures have put inordinate pressure on the state�s finances and certain steps need to be taken to combat it,� finance minister Asim Dasgupta said today.

The minister said different departments will be told to slow down on infrastructure development to save money.

�We will see to it that departments do not go ahead and take up projects like constructing buildings,� he said.

Dasgupta, who attended a Planning Commission meeting in Delhi on Wednesday, disagreed with the view that the state was spending more on salaries, pensions and loans than the revenue it is capable of generating.

The Planning Commission members had strongly criticised the finance minister for borrowing heavily and increasing the state�s interest burden. During the current fiscal, Bengal plans to borrow Rs 9,400 crore from small savings and the market, the commission was told.

Putting the blame squarely on the Centre�s Fifth Pay Commission, the minister said: �What used to be an amount of Rs 500 crore a month now amounts to Rs 950 crore. This includes a wage bill of Rs 350 crore alone for teachers. It is due to the Centre�s policies that the states� burden of loans have increased.�

�The Centre no longer gives us grants. What it gives is 100 per cent loan and that, too, at an interest of 12 per cent, which is much higher than the market rate,� Dasgupta pointed out.

Even the funds collected by the Centre under the small savings schemes came back as loans, the minister said.

Dasgupta claimed that the state has spent the entire Rs 20,700-crore targeted expenditure under the Ninth Five Year Plan. This, he said, had been ratified by the Planning Commission.

The minister also slammed the Centre for not disbursing Rs 1,000 crore as the state�s share of Central taxes, duties and levies and said this, too, was having an adverse effect on the state�s finances.

�Cutting across political lines, finance ministers of all the states are meeting in Delhi on June 12 to discuss these difficulties,� Dasgupta said, adding that Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha had been invited to the meeting.

�During these lean times, we are looking to curb expenses as well as raise revenue. It is because of this that the teachers are being paid salaries towards the end of the month,� the minister said.


Calcutta, May 31: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today criticised the performance of the transport department, particularly its failure to check rampant corruption.

He said the drive against vehicles plying in the city with defective tyres, broken windscreens, faulty back and front lights, among other things, will continue for some time.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, however, refused to accept the chief minister�s observation. �There is corruption everywhere. It is not fare to isolate any particular department,� he said.

When told that to get any work done from the transport department, one has to invariably bribe officers through middlemen, the transport minister said: �There is a nexus between the officers and the brokers. But can you show me where corruption does not exist?�

Chakraborty said the go-betweens were all local unemployed youths. �I would have regularised them if I could,� he added.

Later, talking to reporters, the chief minister welcomed the initiative taken by the motor vehicles department to make fitness certificates mandatory for all passenger-carrying vehicles.

�There may be some excesses and the bus owners might not like it. I have full support for the drive against erring vehicles. Passengers� safety has to be ensured at any cost,� he said. Chakraborty regretted that nothing had been done all these days to keep things in check.

The transport department woke up after Bhattacharjee urged its officers to be tough on owners of public vehicles following the recent accident at Bantala where 46 people had died.

The director of the transport department said at Writers� Buildings today that six assistant directors with 29 motor vehicles inspectors and the police would jointly raid bus depots and garages to check if the vehicles are fit to be on the roads.

�If it is found that vehicles possessing fitness certificates are not actually fit to be on the roads, the certificates will be cancelled on the spot. We shall not retreat even if the bus or taxi owners go on a strike. We have to ensure passengers� safety first. The chief minister�s directive in this regard is very clear,� he said.


Calcutta, May 31: 
The office of a Left Front minister was damaged when a fire broke out at Writers� Buildings tonight.

Ten fire engines were pressed into service.

A fire brigade spokesman said the fire broke out at about 8 pm in the office of minister for social welfare and jail Biswanath Chowdhury.

The air-conditioner installed close to the false-ceiling is believed to have caused the fire.

The blaze which spread from the ceiling damaged some furniture. However, documents on the minister�s table were spared.


New Delhi, May 31: 
At about the same time that George Fernandes was claiming in Singapore today that the situation along the borders was �stable�, his officers in the ministry of defence were putting out an official statement that �heavy exchange of mortar and artillery fire between Indian and Pakistan troops took place in Batalik, Drass, Poonch, Rajouri and Hiranagar sectors in Jammu and Kashmir�.

Shelling and firing across the Line of Control is �normal� and not quite the same as combat. Over this week, Pakistan is said to have redeployed up to four divisions from positions along the Afghanistan border to its eastern borders. Indian forces, too, have moved units and continue to move them through the deployment.

The objective on both sides is to retain the possibility of tactical surprise even if prolonged deployment has reduced the potential of big manoeuvres.

Eyeball-to-eyeball for half-a-year now, Indian and Pakistani armies continue to size each other up, monitoring movement and shelling each other, sometimes to give covering fire to infiltrators, at other times to seek out gun positions and much of the time, just to give tit for tat.

It is not war. It is not peace. It is a stalemate.

Back in the early days of World War II, the Germans described such a situation as �Sitzkrieg�. At the time, it continued for nine months till, on August 24, 1940 German bombers dropped their loads on London.

In the South Asian context, with Islamabad issuing nuclear threats and New Delhi sending out contrary signals, the answer to the question � will a military conflict get real? � continues to be a guessing game.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said the skies were clear of �war clouds�. The next day, in Kupwara, he talked of a �decisive battle�. The day after, Vajpayee said he hoped a bolt of lightning will not strike.

Then, George Fernandes, in an interview to an American newspaper, said India will not go to war in the short term despite grave provocations. That was just before the Kaluchak militant attack on an army camp on May 14. Last week, he said, another Kaluchak-type attack will be provocation enough for war.

And today, in Singapore, he told reporters after talks with US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz: �I don�t think one needs to worry just now as to what is likely to happen.�

Within the security establishment, sources claim such contrary signals are part of a deliberate ploy. In any case, at least for the armed forces, the confusion they create can be used to partly offset the disadvantages of staying on the borders for so long that operational locations may have become detectable to the adversary.

Defence sources said militant camps inside PoK � estimated around end-February to have numbered 70 � have by and large dispersed since. The camps were adjoining Pakistan army militant camps and were close to settlements. �Now, they are deeper inside Pakistan�s jihad factory� � the estimate given is �some 2000-3000� � still waiting to infiltrate into Kashmir.

In the period immediately following Musharraf�s January 12 speech, security agencies had a re-look at the situation �with an open mind�.

But the figures compiled even for the month of May tell a different story � that infiltration and militant-sponsored violence has caught up with the level at this time last year.

The sources said though it was still early to determine the import of Pakistan�s assurances � sent through British foreign secretary Jack Straw � there was little indication that a turnaround was imminent.


New Delhi, May 31: 
Japan has assured India it would impose economic sanctions on Pakistan if Pervez Musharraf does not take concrete and visible steps to stop cross-border terrorism, but said it was also worried that Islamabad�s failure might lead to war and, perhaps, a nuclear confrontation.

Tokyo has strongly criticised the recent missile tests by Pakistan, which, it says, has further raised the temperature in volatile South Asia.

Senior vice-minister for foreign affairs Seiken Sugiura, who is here to defuse tensions between the neighbours, met foreign minister Jaswant Singh this afternoon and talked about the developing situation in the region. He held a similar meeting yesterday with national security adviser Brajesh Mishra.

Earlier in the week, Sugiura was in Islamabad, where he had detailed discussions with the Pakistani leadership on ways of cooling the temperature in South Asia. �The Pervez Musharraf government did not give any time frame, but I got the impression that it will take concrete and visible steps to stop cross-border terrorism,� he said.

But he was quick to add that �the Indian leadership has expressed a strong determination to fight terrorism and if Pakistan fails to take concrete action, there is a strong possibility of military confrontation between the two sides�.

The Japanese leader said he discussed with the Indian leaders �different ways to avoid a war in the region�.

Asked whether Japan was thinking of imposing economic sanctions on Pakistan, the minister decided to remain ambiguous. �At the moment, we are not thinking of any such move,� he said.

But Indian officials said that during Sugiura�s conversations with Mishra and Singh, an assurance was given that Japan, in consultation with the US and Britain, was thinking of turning the screws on Pakistan financially to ensure that it takes steps against terrorists.

Whether the key world players are serious about this will become clear on June 11, the day the World Bank is to release the next tranche of $ 500 million to Pakistan. If it is stopped, the other major loans due to the Musharraf regime or which have already been announced could also be held back to pressure Islamabad.

But Sugiura made it clear that Japan was also worried about an armed conflict between the two nuclear-armed rivals. Japan is concerned about the �risk of the current tension developing into a military conflict between India and Pakistan�, he said, pointing out that even a limited strike could lead to not only a full-scale war but a nuclear conflict.

�We are the only country in the world which has been a victim of the atomic bomb,� he said, adding that not only millions perish but a nuclear strike�s effect is felt even 50 years later.

The Japanese vice-minister argued that a war between India and Pakistan would not merely be disastrous for the two countries but that the only beneficiaries would be the terrorists.

�We hope India would continue to show restraint and exhaust all its diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the tension in the region,� he said. This could also mean resuming dialogue with Pakistan, he suggested.


Bhopal, May 31: 
More than 750 Congress delegates will converge here for a three-day national training camp on secularism starting tomorrow as part of the party�s efforts to shake off allegations of being �anti-Hindu�.

Sources said the delegates and a handful of commentators from across the country would speak on the party�s pro-Muslim policies and the attitude of the minority communities. All uncomfortable questions the Congress has so far skirted will be dealt with.

Twenty-six BJP allegations have been chosen as topics of discussion. Some of them are queries like why Indian Muslims burst crackers when India loses to Pakistan in a cricket match or why Article 370 should not be scrapped for a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue?

Other tricky issues deal with Islam and terrorism; Godhra and the Prime Minister�s comment that if the train massacre had not happened there would have been no riots; birth rate among Muslims, the government�s spending of crores of rupees on Haj pilgrims every year; and conversions carried out by Christian missionaries.

The K.C. Niyogi committee, after thorough investigation, had submitted a detailed report to the Madhya Pradesh government confirming that Christian missionaries were indulging in anti-Hindu propoganda in tribal areas.

The BJP had questioned if the state�s Congress government had taken any action so far?

�There is an increasing communal atmosphere in the country. After Godhra, the whole country seems to have been divided into communities. This was one of our serious concerns, discussed at the AICC meet on May 24 in New Delhi,� said state Congress chief Radha Kishan Malviya, explaining the need for the camp.

�Chief minister Digvijay Singh suggested the idea that the party should discuss the BJP�s accusations on the Congress about minority appeasement and those questions that the party has so far ducked need to be answered now.�

Malviya said party chief Sonia Gandhi agreed that a national meet should be held to discuss �secularism�. Bhopal, he added, was selected to host the event as it was home to both Hindus and Muslims.

Senior Congress leaders will hold discussions and interact on the topics lined up. Non-political experts have been chosen from the minority communities so that they can explain the psychology of minority- behaviour.

Among those who would deliver speeches are Prof. Mushirul Hasan of Jamia Milia University, Prof. Imtiaz Ahmed from JNU, former Chief Justice of India A.M. Ahmadi, A.J. Phillip, editor, Indian Express, Urdu critic Gopichand Narang, academic Arjun Dev and Congress leader Salman Khurshid. AICC member in-charge of training programmes Mani Shankar Aiyar will be present. Chief minister Digvijay Singh will inaugurate the event at 9 am tomorrow.


New Delhi, May 31: 
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad today lashed out at the Vajpayee government, accusing it of hatching a plot to weaken the hardline Hindu organisation.

The outburst came a day after it suffered a public censure by Baba Dharamdas of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas. �A government agency could be financing Dharamdas to weaken the VHP,� claimed VHP president Vishnu Hari Dalmia. �The government wants to make us weak.�

Contending that the Centre has a stake in undermining the VHP�s stature, Dalmia said: �The government would have behaved otherwise were it in a majority.� He stated two possible reasons for Dharamdas�s accusations � either he was instigated by the government or is under the �influence of a tantrik�.

At a news conference yesterday, Dharamdas levelled various charges against the VHP, ranging from bungling the Trust�s finances to pitting Hindus and Muslims against each other. He even went to the extent of saying that the people of Ayodhya, and not outsiders, should settle the Ram temple controversy.

As for the VHP�s plans of performing purnahuti on June 2, he alleged it was a camouflage for collecting funds for �political purposes�, besides renewing tension between Hindus and Muslims.

In retaliation, Dalmia hit back saying: �Dharamdas has no locus standi in the Trust to make any charges against us. He is not even a member of the Ramjanmabhoomi Trust. He is only a permanent invitee.� Dharamdas heads the Vishwa Dharma Paksha Parishad � an organisation floated by him to bring together people of diverse faiths.

Dalmia made no secret of his disaffection with the Vajpayee government for not implementing certain steps that would facilitate the majority community. �They could have banned cow slaughter and cleaned up the Ganga. They should know what kind of significance the Ganga has in the Hindu psyche,� said Dalmia.

He also blamed the Centre for not petitioning the court earlier to have daily hearings on the Ramjanmabhoomi dispute. �We are hopeful of a verdict by the end of this year or early next year. If the government had petitioned the court earlier for daily hearings we could have reached a verdict much earlier,� said Dalmia.

The recent bickering between the VHP and the NDA over performing puja at the disputed site in Ayodhya caused a rift between the two. Now, by dragging the Centre into its row with Dharamdas, the VHP has made it clear that it is still not in a forgiving mood.

Of the few ministers in the VHP�s good books, human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi occupies top slot.

�Joshi has done a lot in his area by rectifying the errors of the Communists in education,� pointed out Dalmia.


Hyderabad, May 31: 
The 20th Mahanadu (annual convention) of the Telugu Desam Party in Warangal has projected party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu as not only its undisputed leader but also the brightest star on the southern political horizon.

The convention aimed at hard-selling Naidu as a leader with the qualities of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Malaysia�s Mahathir Mohamad rolled into one.

Naidu�s thrust towards reforms, anti-poverty programmes and infusion of information technology in governance was sold as a landmark in the corporate annals of the country.

Enthusiastic party cadres described him as �not just a human being but an institution�.

The Mahanadu was used as a platform to ensure smooth sailing for Naidu�s pro-reform proposals as well as nipping in the bud voices of dissent within the Desam.

Keeping Naidu�s agenda in mind, the Warangal Mahanadu remained bereft of the Desam�s other star attractions.

Except for Desam MP Rama Naidu, a well-known film producer and director, and legislator Babumohan, a comedian, film personalities were conspicuous by their absence.

Notable among the absentees were Rajya Sabha member Jayaprada and party vice-president Sharada. Jayaprada from Rajamundry recently announced in Calcutta that she would contest the next general elections as an Independent.

Her relations with Naidu soured ever since she was removed from the chief�s post of the party�s women�s wing. She was also not given a second term in the Rajya Sabha.

Asked about the reasons for the absence of film personalities at the occasion, a Naidu aide said the party was moving away from film glamour.


New Delhi, May 31: 
The National Council of Educational Research and Training is trying to get even with state education ministers who have accused its director, J.S. Rajput, and human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi of ramming through a school syllabus that was not approved by the majority of states.

Furnishing letters written by the education ministers of Tripura and Karnataka, the NCERT said: �It is indeed unfortunate that such large scale consultations involving state education ministers and chief ministers are being ignored now.�

The NCERT director accused the state education ministers of levelling �untenable and misleading� charges at his institution.

In his letter dated May 7, 2001, Tripura education minister Anil Sarkar wrote: �It was really a successful seminar and we have benefited from the valuable discussions held between the NCERT experts and our officials.�

Karnataka education minister H. Vishwanath wrote to Joshi: �Some of the points of the curriculum framework have already been implemented in the state�s school curricula.�

The NCERT has quoted these letters and recorded the number of meetings and discussion the it had sponsored with the states.

�Joshi is trying to point to the discussions as a measure of approval on our part. But discussions do not mean consensus,� Bengal education minister Kanti Biswas had said after a group of 16 education ministers had walked out of the NCERT�s annual general meeting last Sunday.

The council, however, is sticking to its stand that the extensive discussions can be taken as an indication of support by the states, especially when none of the education ministers, barring Kanti Biswas, had given his reservations on the syllabus in writing to the minister.

According to the NCERT, �Before the finalisation of the national curriculum framework, a number of regional and national seminars had been conducted to discuss the document. The output of these seminars was appropriately included in the final document released in November 2000.�

In the face of opposition from state education ministers, Joshi has refused to budge on the new school curriculum. He also refused to convene the Central Advisory Board of Education.


Hyderabad, May 31: 
The People�s War Group today nominated revolutionary poet Varavara Rao and folk singer Gaddar alias Sudarshan as their representatives to hold talks with the government for ending the 30-year rural bloodshed in Andhra Pradesh.

In a signed statement, PWG state committee secretary Ramakrishna said �the government should give them proper protection as both have been subject to threats and harassment from the police and anti-social elements very often�.

He also wanted members of the Committee of Concerned Citizens, which initiated the process for a dialogue with the government, to function as observers. The CCC is led by former social welfare secretary S.R. Sankaran, who was one of the five IAS officers kidnapped by the Naxalite outfit in 1985 in East Godavari district.

Ramakrishna accused the government of being �insincere� and having a �negative� attitude towards talks with them.

He said though the PWG had taken several measures to bring about a peaceful environment for the talks, the government has been making ambiguous and confused pronouncements. �Its response to our demand for ceasefire was undemocratic,� he said.

The rebel leader said his outfit has not moved an inch from its objective of achieving democracy through revolution. �We want to use the forum for talks with the government to highlight people�s democratic rights which have been overshadowed in the clutter of political and constitutional exercises in the country,� he said.

Ramakrishna pointed out that the PWG had announced a ceasefire in January. �We offered unconditional talks with the government. But we paid a heavy price, with the government forces killing several of our comrades in cold blood,� he said.

�If the Chandrababu Naidu government had expressed its willingness to hold talks, it was only on the pressure of democrats and people. Even though there are negative signals from the police who have been behaving as political leaders, we have been very restrained in the hope of proper talks,� he added.


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